Soaring hydro prices impact local club

By Michelle Allenberg, Tribune Staff

Matt Botden, president of the Welland Curling Club, and Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath discuss rising hydro prices. on Friday January 13, 2017 in Welland, Ont. Michelle Allenberg/Welland Tribune/Postmedia Network

Matt Botden, president of the Welland Curling Club, and Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath discuss rising hydro prices. on Friday January 13, 2017 in Welland, Ont. Michelle Allenberg/Welland Tribune/Postmedia Network

The Welland Curling Club is feeling the burn of soaring hydro costs and is trying to turn the heat on to the Liberal government.

Friday, Matt Botden, president of the club, met with Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath and Welland MPP Cindy Forster to discuss the impact hydro rates have on the club.

The yearly cost of hydro to operate the curling club is about $45,000. Botden said this is about a 30 per cent increase in the past three years. Botden said the weather has a big impact on the club’s hydro bill, since they need to make and maintain ice. If the weather outside is particularly warm the operating system has to run longer to keep the ice at the right temperature. The system is turned on around Sept. 20 every year and runs until about April.

He said if the cost of hydro continues to increase he doesn’t know how the club will be able to operate. In recent years club membership has been down due to economic difficulties in the region. Botden said most of the members were working in local industry and manufacturing; once manufacturers moved out of Welland membership went down. Botden added he doesn’t want to raise membership costs to cover the increasing hydro costs, so he’s hoping the club can recruit more members — right now the club has about 195 adult members and 70 junior members. A full membership is about $600 and $100 for junior players, Botden said the club would need a lot of members to pay the pricy bill.

“When it comes to the membership side we are reasonable, realistic and we understand that curling is a discretionary expense for people. If they are having a hard time then they can’t choose to curl ... just raising membership rates, we want this place to be full and it’s not full, we want more members, so you are better off not raising membership rates,” Botden said.

Horwath said the club isn’t gaining anything if the cost of hydro keeps going up. She said it doesn’t matter what the club tries to do by cutting costs or installing new equipment, it’s not going to make a big impact and the club will continue to be in “worse shape.”

Horwath said the Liberal government’s agenda to sell off Hydro One will put businesses in jeopardy and citizens can’t afford these increases.

“That privatization is going to take a system that is already in trouble in terms of providing electricity at affordable rates and make it even worse, it’s actually going to make it even worse for people and for clubs like yours,” Horwath said while speaking to Botden and Forster.

In August the club installed a new control system to monitor different aspects that would affect hydro usage, including ice and air temperature. The system monitors these conditions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Botden said this allows the club to adjust the amount of time the refrigeration system and other systems are running for, hopefully decreasing the hydro costs. So far, Botden said it has reduced the monthly bills about five per cent. He said he will have a more accurate number once the season is over and has more hydro bills to compare previous bills to. Botden said he hopes the new system will cut costs at least 30 to 40 per cent.

“No matter what we do to work on consumption it seems like a losing game,” Botden said.

The club applied for financial assistance from the government through the Retrofit Program which is part of the Save On Energy initiative to support energy conservation efforts. The club applied for assistance during Fall 2015 and was approved at the beginning of 2016. Botden said the club should get about half of the more than $13,000 it cost to install the energy saving system.

In an effort to save money the club has also retrofitted the building with energy-efficient lighting.

Horwath said when there is a reset in 2018, if the NDP are elected they plan to bring hydro rates down. She said the NDP have already made recommendations to the Liberal government, but if the NDP were to be elected it would take HST off hydro bills. Horwath said the NDP have been fighting for this for the past six years and the Liberal party still has not taken HST off.

The NDP will also review contracts for privatized energy. Horwath said the contracts need to be reviewed so the government can determine whether there is a better deal to be had for Ontarians.

Quebec and Manitoba sell off excess energy, Horwath said we should look to those provinces as an example of how to handle excess energy. Horwath said currently the Ontario government dumps excess energy into the market and does not “get a good deal.”

Twitter: @M_Allenberg